Published Sep 09, 2009Set in the early '80s within a French compound in Moscow, L'Affaire Farewell deftly replicates not only the political and social climate of the cold war era but also the filmmaking sensibilities of past espionage thrillers, throwing the audience into the action with the appropriate aesthetics and ideological context.
Those familiar with director Christian Carion's catalogue of titles, such as compassionate WWI drama Joyeux Noel, likely won't be surprised by his continued filmmaking panache and ability to provide a modern framework for a relevant historical event.
After a smattering of documentary footage sheds some historical light, Pierre (Guillaume Canet), an engineer for an electronics firm, winds up as an unlikely vessel of communication between his boss and a Russian KGB official (Emir Kusturica). Thinking the information and documents are of little importance, Pierre is shocked when Vallier (Niels Arestrup), the head of the French Secret Service, reveals that they are quite serious, indeed.
Things are further complicated when Francois Mitterand (Philippe Magnon), the French President, shares this information with Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward), who shows concern after learning of the many KGB moles within the C.I.A.
In addition to precipitating the collapse of the USSR, the resultant chaos ramps tensions up significantly, given the increased stakes and need for subterfuge in the lives of Serguei (Kusturica) and Pierre. The message here is more of questionable morality and survival when put to the test than of blanket historical data, which is ultimately what connects the audience.
This unifying humanity is also what saves the film from a bout of finger pointing, as the events come about without particular judgment, delivering French, American and Russian perspectives without glib vilifying. It is this maturity and a solid third act that more than make up for some minor transition and tonality issues early on in the film, as we move from Europe to the U.S. Fans of old school thrillers should look no further. (E1)